It’s about food and culture

Final day of activities and we had the best saved for last! A big day can only start well though with a good brunch, courtesy of the Meliartos Experience, where we drank traditional Greek coffee, learnt how to make pitas, and tasted a variety of olive oils and honey! A blend of modern production methods and traditional pallets, truly, a splendid hands-on experience! Demetri Maroutsos expressed his enthusiasm about the event! “It was amazing to finish our trip at a place that specializes in taking the best of every ingredient from the regions that have perfected them. I’ve never been hungrier watching bougatsa being made”

Next, a visit to the new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Kallithea, in the Southwestern part of Athens. A marvel of modern architecture, it aims at revitalizing the area by offering a free to the public admission to the grounds and building, which houses a new opera and the National Library. We saw a wonderful performance by Heidi Latsky and Apostolia Papadamaki, called ON DISPLAY.

We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful sendoff; Sat under olive trees, surrounded by the intoxicating smell of lavender, we reminisced of these last two weeks. Secretly wanting more, we laughed and laughed until it was time to go and say our farewells.

Billy Fuerst had a lot to say about his last day in Greece: “The view from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center was truly breathtaking and provided me with a final opportunity to appreciate the beauty of Greece. The performance choreographed by Heidi Latsky and Apostolia Papadamaki was an interesting take on the way which the performer and the viewer interact in an artistic and socially constructed environment. Despite the fact that our trip came to a rapid end I will never forget the friendships I’ve made and the experiences I’ve shared with the entire Heritage Greece community.”

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Meliartos experience olive oil tasting

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Final Day at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre

Blog editor and photographer: James (Dimitris) Voutsas

A day off

Every now and again, it’s good to have time off; to spend time with one’s self. That’s why some of the participants headed up to Agia Paraskevi’s local monastery for a 6:30 am service! For Katie Mahon Kuzin it was quite the spiritual experience: “Today was an incredibly eye-opening day and a wonderful way to begin to close out our time with Heritage Greece. I started my day at 6 am at Moni Agiou Ioanni tou Kinigou (St. John the Hunter’s monastery). They let us sit in on their morning worship. Although their prayers and conversations were in Greek, it was unbelievably cool to be standing in a place that has been used for worship since the 12th century AD. We sat outside and were offered loukoumi (Turkish delight) by the nuns who proceeded to give us a short tour and history lesson about the monastery. It was a beautiful moment. At 6:45 in the morning, as the birds were just waking up, me and some of the great friends I met over the two weeks discussed religion and Greek history while the early morning sun shun on our faces.”

The rest of the day was about relaxation. A long day at the beach and shopping. We visited the exclusive Balux Café in Glyfada and stayed there for the better part of the day, enjoying both beach and swimming pool! Christos Zourzoukis was in a rather pensive mood: “It was an emotional time but also a fun time; a time for celebration! It was our last beach time so it was fun to connect with all the people I’ve met over the last two weeks. But it also sad that this time with these people I’ve been bonded with is coming to a close.”

Later, the participants had free time to roam around Glyfada for shopping and a walk by the sea!

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St. John the Hunter’s Monastery (Photography by Anthony Efstathiades)

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Our last beach time together and there were many, many smiles!

Blog editor and photographer: James (Dimitris) Voutsas

Land ahoy!

There is nothing more simplistically beautiful than calm blue sea, stretching for as far as the eye can see. Greek seas, inspiring art, defining civilizations and providing life for millions, have been the cornerstone of every great Greek civilization to have passed. Even up to today, the Greek navy, has played an integral part in shaping our modern history. We travelled to the municipality of Paleo Faliro and the town of Piraeus, a coastal city with Greece’s biggest and most important harbor, to learn of this incredible heritage.

First stop was at Olympic Shipping and Management S.A., the company Aristotle Onasis himself founded and which continues his legacy. Dimitris Patrikios, General Manager, talked to us about the company itself and engaged in a very warm discussion with the participants on the issues that shipping faces and the difficulties of running the number one shipping company in the world! What we found out later, was that we were the first students to be admitted into the offices and be presented with all this information! Indeed, a real privilege! James Kontonis was especially aware of this: “Visiting Olympic shipping allowed me to see a successful Greek business that has a positive contribution on society through various charitable causes. I have constantly heard how Greeks are failing and do not contribute to anything, but finding out about the impact of Olympic shipping started by Aristotle Onasis in the 1930s made me feel more pride in the ability and impact of the Greek entrepreneurs. Another positive of the visit was bearing that Olympic shipping has never had an oli spill which is extremely important in order to protect our environment.”

We then moved on to the beautiful reception at the Yacht Club of Greece, where Art Dimopoulos, Executive Director of the NHS, introduced distinguished guests such as HRH Princess Tatiana Blatnik, former Minister of Health and current Member of Parliament, Adonis Georgiadis, Dr. Dimitrios Andreou, Vice President of Enrollment and Administration of Deree, Peter Poulos, Director of Development for the Hellenic Initiative, to name a few.

We were treated to a wonderful lunch overlooking the inlets and bays of Piraeus, with small and big craft gently passing by as everyone took in the moment. Stories and dreams of the future were shared and plans were made. This is where it all happened. The connections made today are for life and will, without a question, help more Greek-Americans and Greece to prosper. Demetra Laurent caught on to this sentiment very quickly while we were attending the lunch: “Being with so many wonderful supporters of Heritage Greece and the HG17 family was such a wonderful experience. It was amazing to meet the people who made all this possible. It was one of those moments where you realize what a gift this experience has been, especially for people who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to connect with their culture and Greek Heritage.”

We then parted ways, but not before everyone said their hearty goodbyes.

And what better way to end the day off? A beach party! Organized by the Senior Class of Deree, we went back to the beautiful Moraitis Beach is Schinias, were we ate and danced into the falling sun!

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Our visit to Olympic and Management S.A. was the first of its kind, even for the company! It was the first time they talked to students in their headquarters.

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The biggest family photo of Heritage Greece 2017 at the Yacht Club of Greece!

Blog editor and photographer: James (Dimitris) Voutsas

Back to base

Back to our base, Athens, and the millions of little secrets it holds. The best secrets though are those sitting in plain sight. First, our guests had the opportunity to flex their Greek skills in Monastiraki’s flea-market are, which sits below the Acropolis, whose name means “little monastery”. Sophia Petros was very impressed: “[…] I wandered into an alley and found an area where people had piled up their old stuff and had it out for sale. It was the most eclectic mix of things, from drachmas minted in the 20s to old photos and letters. I don’t think I blended into the scene very well but it was so cool to see!!” This of course gave them the chance to get acquainted with the area and see our next destination. The ancient Agora.

The Agora, an important place in every ancient city, was where all the people of consequence met. To guide us through this wondrous place was none other than the Director of the excavation, Dr. John Camp, who has been working on the site since 1966! He talked to each group for 30 or so minutes, but for us it felt much, much shorter. He showed us around a particular site they are working on, and talked to us about the process and difficulties they face. Demos Efstathiou was bewildered: “It was pretty amazing having Professor Camp show us around the Ancient agora dig site. It’s mind boggling to stand where the great minds of ancient Athens, the architects of democracy, once stood. Beyond seeing the physical evidence of the Ancient Athenians, it was awesome to stand at the birthplace of their ideas.”

Head buzzing with new information and knowledge of the inner workings of an archaeological dig, we set out for lunch at the nearby Hard Rock Café, then ended off with another Greek culture seminar, this time in Plaka, the “neighborhood of the Gods”.

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The group assembling at Monastaraki square, where the Metro station (right) and old Mosque (left) are local landmarks. Of course, who could miss the Acropolis (center back)

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Dr. John Camp explaining to the group about the archaeological dig at the Agora!

Blog editor and photographer: James (Dimitris) Voutsas

It’s about keeping it fresh

Greece being situated where it is, has always been heavily influenced by both East and West. A testament to that, even to this day, are its local markets. Bustling with people, full of energy, vibrant colors and loud, passionate storekeepers, they remain an integral part of Greek society, a place where fresh products of excellent quality can be found, but to another degree, a place of social gathering, as neighbors and old friends meet by chance and exchange their news. For the participants, this was a unique experience, one which allowed them to really get a feel of Greek every-day life. Katie Kuzin was especially touched by this, because “[…] When I was younger my neighborhood used to have large, loud block parties, and walking through the laiki reminded me of getting lost at different block parties in Queens, NYC.” For many it was an emotional day, either because they experienced it for the first time, or for the first time in years and years.

As the day progressed, an important evening dinner neared. The reception at the President’s house by Mr. Horner himself! Excitement in the air, the feel was “dress to impress”. A gratuitous environment, one of welcome, was what our guests found, where Mr. Horner welcomed them with kind words. It was a joyous occasion, one which everyone attended, from participants all the way up the ladder of people that made this program possible. The participants were excited about the reception. Alexa Simos thought “it was incredible to converse with adults involved in the program and to get their insights in such a beautiful setting with such generous hosts”, while Elizabeth Tzagournis cheerfully said: “I enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the people who made this program possible for all of us. I enjoyed both the food and company!”
So, we drank some wine, posed for some pictures, shared funny stories and parted ways on a cheerful note just in time to see a beautiful Athenian summer sunset.

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So much to see, so much to choose!

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With this year’s participants, alumni of the program and staff, it really is a big family!

Blog editor and photographer: James (Dimitris) Voutsas

It’s all about family

Two are the main pillars in a Greek’s life. Coffee and family, sometimes to a religious extent. First, we went to a local coffee shop next to the College, Arteon Garden, and ordered amongst the plethora of coffees, challenging our newly acquired Greek skills! For Demetra Laurent the phrase θα ήθελα ένα φρεντο καπουτσίνο μέτριο με κανέλλα” came rolling off the tongue straight away! It means “I would like a freddo (iced) cappuccino with a teaspoon of sugar and cinnamon (sprinkled on top)”, a coffee which in recent years has become very popular, challenging frape’s status quo as the dominant summer coffee!

What transpired later though was a testament of what this trip is all about. The ACG Peers and staff of the program hosted our guests, showing them what Greek hospitality means. Spread all over Athens, each guest experienced a different side of Athens and Greek culture, since each family acts differently.

Christina Hanos was hosted by Trifonas Asproulis and his family, saying: “I felt truly welcomed and had an awesome experience with the Alexakis-Asproulis family. I can’t wait for my next visit to Greece!”.

Rocky Kamen-Rubio was hosted by Evi Tsapara and was especially touched: “It was so sweet to see that a family meal is really the same halfway around the world. I now feel much closer to my hosts and to Greek culture as a whole.”

Anastasia Tsolometes, while in the good company of our peer Efterpi Papageorgiou, noted that “Heritage Greece is an incredible program that allows you to fully immerse in the Greek Culture, not as a tourist, but as a peer. Every day gets better and better and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to see and experience our culture through the lens of Greek college students”.

Gabriella Rerra, while also being hosted by Efterpi, laughingly came to this realization: “Greece makes you more attractive; it makes you glow!”

Finally, Alexandra Papoutsis, also hosted by Efterpi, had these kind words to say: “Not only do we get to experience Greece culturally, but we also get to experience an intimate relationship with our host family and develop a connection beyond sightseeing and learning. This is more personal and truly something to remember forever.”

Στην υγειά μας!

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Ordering coffee can be fun!

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With the participants spread all over Athens, some even took to the street to play music, and to dance to it, of course! (Photograph by Trifon Asproulakis)

Blog editor and photographer: James (Dimitris) Voutsas

Location, location, location

The ancient Greeks knew where to build their sites. Testament to this is any of the sites we have visited! The same though can be said about modern Greeks.

Costa Navarino is one of the most luxurious resorts in the world, if not the most! Unparalleled natural beauty, combined with a respectful architecture, creates a wonderfully calming and exclusive place to vacation at. With something for everyone, it truly has all grounds covered.

Going in to Costa Navarino for the second time, we thought we knew what to expect, since we had experienced part of it, albeit a small part. But we were not prepared for what we experienced today. Beautiful restaurants of every taste, fountains, ponds and flowerbeds everywhere, you really could not believe your eyes. We found Victoria Raschi afterwards, who particularly liked Costa Navarino: “Costa Navarino was a fresh view and taste of Greece. It was a beautiful resort that blended the traditions of Greece with a modern style of architecture and shops. It allowed us to experience the unbelievable history of Greece but also gave us a break from walking while providing a magnificent view of the Ionian Sea.”

We didn’t have much time to take in the sights. We were led in to a big room full of wonderful smells. In the middle of the room was a group of women, dressed in traditional local clothing, sitting and preparing food. What initially seemed odd though, was that they were singing; gentle songs, songs that soothed one’s tired ears and made them forget their sense of hunger.

They were all from a local Women’s association, and were preparing a local delicacy named “boukies”, meaning “bitesize”. They’re fresh pasta cut into small pieces, boiled for couple of minutes then covered in a mixture of Mizithra, a white cheese like feta, but hardened and dry, and olive oil. The cheese is grated and lightly fried in the oil, which they used to cover the pasta. No matter the description, the taste of them was from another world.

After they stopped cooking, they danced with our participants. The music? Their own voices.

The rest of the food was a buffet of traditional foods, but of course, it being Costa Navarino, the quality and taste was indescribable. Rocky Kamen-Rubio was especially taken aback: “Getting to eat moussaka and octopode brought me right back to my grandparents’ apartment in Montreal. It was so fascinating and inspiring to get to see the seas and fields that inspired these dishes and the traditional way that these dishes would be made by locals. I feel so much closer to the roots of what has been such a strong culinary influence in my life.”

So, with everyone full and content, we embarked back to Athens. A wonderful three-day trip comes peacefully to an end, but the adventure is far from over.

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There’s so much space at Costa Navarino, it can easily fit us all in one picture!

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Food and dancing. Nothing more Greek than that!

Blog editor and photographer: James (Dimitris) Voutsas

It’s about the seaside breeze

Sleep is something this program has little of. A swift breakfast then on to the province of Messinia.

First, we stopped at the beautiful beach near Romanos, named Kookoonari. The beautiful turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea made everyone calmer, while the delicate lunch that was prepared for us was enough more than enough to hold us for the day.

Later in the afternoon, we visited the scenic town of Pylos, a town rich in history. An important port, even from Venetian times, it played a crucial role in the history of the area. The most crucial being the naval battle of Navarino, a battle that turned the tide of the Greek Revolution in the 19th century.

This town held significance for two of our participants, Eleni Piliotis and Quinn Marquardt, due to their connection to the town:

For Eleni, “I was excited to learn that we would make a surprise visit to my father’s hometown, Pylos. I had visited the town before when I was younger, so it was really nostalgic and brought back a lot of happy memories”

Quinn was also ecstatic: “When I found out that we were visiting Pylos, I was filled with so much emotion. Pylos was my Pappou’s hometown. He has now passed, but when visiting, I felt a new sense of connection to my Greek heritage that I did not have before”.

To end it all off, we visited the prestigious Costa Navarino, an exclusive resort, a true privilege and an amazing sight to behold. We dined at “The Dinner: American Dining”, which was so authentic it even had a bowling alley and pool tables! We enjoyed burgers under the falling Messinian sun with a gentle summer breeze cooling us off!

It was here that Art Dimopoulos, Executive Director of the National Hellenic Society, was going from table to table talking to the participants. As they were telling him about the happiness and pride they feel for being in Greece and what they were experiencing, he responded to them very simply with “It’s all in here [points to heart]; all we do is unlock it”.

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Would you look at that! An authentic diner in Greece!

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The team assembled at the beautiful town of Pylos!

Blog editor and photographer: James (Dimitris) Voutsas

Ready for a road trip?

Greek history isn’t just Athens, or the 5th century BC. It’s so much more. That’s why we embarked on a massive journey to the Peloponnese, a region strife with history, culture and natural beauty.

First short stop, the Corinth Canal. Built at the end of the 19th century, it was a hallmark of Greek vision and engineering, enabling shipping to become even more efficient in the region, bringing more people into contact, allowing for quicker travel. A monumental achievement, it’s an imposing sight.

Next on the trip was Ancient Olympia. It was quite a journey, but Joanna Alexis was very keen about it: “Greece’s landscapes and views are absolutely breathtaking. As we sat on the bus to Olympia today, I was in awe of the spectacular mountains and oceans bordering the quiet villages. I am so thankful to say I come from such a beautiful country that welcomes everyone with open arms and gorgeous sights.”

Ancient Olympia, birthplace of the Olympics, still holds an important role, as the Olympic Flame is birthed here before it makes its global journey. Located in the province of Ilia in the western Peloponnese, it’s situated in a lush green forest next to a river, which lends to creating the mystic summer atmosphere one senses when entering the site. It’s an impressive place and, if one lets their imagination run free, they can imagine all the festivities that took place. Quinn Marquardt was particularly enthusiastic: “I was in disbelief about how beautiful it was and felt that we were connected to history. I could not believe we stood where the Olympics actually began. It was saddening of course to see how much had been destroyed but what remained was impressive.”

The participants even raced against each other! The ultimate prize? An olive reef.

To end it all off, we ate at a wonderful nearby restaurant called Bacchus, whilst the sun set in the most amazing colors.

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Everyone was amazed by all the natural beauty around.

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The ancient stadium, in which our participants even raced.

Blog editor and photographer: James (Dimitris) Voutsas

Culture Condensed

Where would Greece be now were it not for the foresight and vision of great men and women who loved this country to no end?

Such is the case of Antonis Benakis, who dedicated his life to the preservation of culture, with the hope of educating and forming admirable modern citizens. His legacy? Numerous museums around Athens which house marvels of Greek history, tradition and culture, but not only.

We were lucky enough to be guided around the Benaki Museum, discovering its wealth through every intertwining hallway, something new around every corner. As if the discovery of the museum itself wasn’t enough, Pavlos Geroulanos, grandson of Antonis Benakis who founded the museum in 1929 and former Greek Minister of Culture and Tourism from 2011-2012 talked to us about the importance of correct preservation and about a holistic approach to history, one which informs and doesn’t misinform.

Joanna Podias could resonate with his point of view, “I thought it was really neat when Geroulanos mentioned that the museum was the only one with pieces from Greece through many different periods of history. It made me feel like I got a comprehensive picture of Greece’s art and culture, whereas I’ve only ever seen American museums focus on ancient Greece and what they see as the “important” parts of Greek culture”.

All this was put in to context and enhanced thanks to the morning’s Greek Culture Seminar, by our own Dr. Gregory A. Katsas, who talked to the participants about the reality of Greek culture. Alexandra Papoutsis was especially touched by the seminar: “During the culture seminar the professor asked us one question: Where does Greece belong? At first, I realized he was looking for a geographical answer. But to me, this question seemed deeper. I couldn’t help but think that Greece as a country is to be revered. As a beautiful place that needs to be discovered and learned time and time again. The culture is rich. If I was not here, I may never have understood that.”

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The Benaki Museaum has the tendancy to make people lose themselves in their thoughts.

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Pavlos Geroulanos, grandson to Antonis Benakis.

Blog editor and photographer: James (Dimitris) Voutsas

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